News / USA

    Free Press, Security Concerns Clash in AP Case

    A man looks down at his smartphone as he walks past the offices of the Associated Press in Manhattan, New York,  May 13, 2013.
    A man looks down at his smartphone as he walks past the offices of the Associated Press in Manhattan, New York, May 13, 2013.
    Revelations that the U.S. Justice Department secretly obtained phone records from the Associated Press in connection with a leak investigation continue to spark strong reactions. They are coming both from journalist organizations concerned with freedom of the press and government officials focused on national security.  

    The story involving the government secretly accessing phone records of reporters and editors working for the Associated Press (AP) is the latest skirmish in a long-running battle that pits the journalistic search for truth against the need to protect national security.

    The government seized records for 20 separate AP phone lines and told the news agency only after the fact. In the past, the government has usually contacted news organizations in advance, and often a negotiation will ensue about access to phone records and other information related to leak investigations.

    Word of the government’s action sparked outrage from the AP and other news organizations, free press groups and the American Civil Liberties Union.

    Lucy Dalglish, dean of the journalism program at the University of Maryland and a former executive director of the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press, said, “The sheer volume of records they are going after and the length of time that they are investigating is really quite breathtaking and very, very intrusive.”

    The story has also stirred concern in Congress from lawmakers from both parties. Among them is Democratic Representative John Conyers of Michigan.

    “I’m troubled by the notion that our government would pursue such a broad array of media phone records over such a long period of time,” he said.

    It’s believed the seizure of the phone records are related to AP stories from last year detailing how U.S. officials foiled an al-Qaida terror plot originating in Yemen that involved detonating a bomb aboard a U.S.-bound airliner.

    Attorney General Eric Holder described the leak investigation as one of the most serious he’s seen in decades as a federal prosecutor.

    “It put the American people at risk, and that is not hyperbole," he said. "It put the American people at risk, and trying to determine who was responsible for that I think required very aggressive action.

    Despite the outcry, President Obama defended the leak investigation during a White House news conference, saying, “I make no apologies, and I don’t think the American people would expect me as commander in chief not to be concerned about information that might compromise their missions or might get them killed.”

    Analysts say it remains unclear whether press outrage over the phone records story will galvanize the public.

    John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center said Americans have generally favored a balanced approach to free press and national security in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

    “If you look at polls, there still is a significant body of public opinion, a number of people who say, look, we understand that there are dangers out there," he said. "We want our freedoms, but we also think that there are some governmental powers that we need to protect us, so I think it is a relatively balanced view.”

    But journalism advocate Lucy Dalglish urged reporters to adjust their methods to protect themselves from intrusive government investigations.

    “Technology is not your friend. Stay off the phone. Stay off email," she cautioned. "Don’t use your credit card. Don’t fly to meet a source on a commercial airline. Stay off of anything that has battery and an on and off switch and go back to meeting your sources on park benches.”

    The debate over the AP case has rekindled interest in Congress in trying to pass a shield law that would offer journalists more protections in cases where the government is seeking private information from reporters and editors.

    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.

    You May Like

    Russian-Backed Offensive in Syria Pushes War to Tipping Point

    As threat to Aleppo and rebel forces grows, US plan to negotiate becomes less and less appealing for Syrian government, says one military analyst

    IS Runs Timber Smuggling Business in Afghanistan, Officials Say

    Government turning blind eye to smuggling, according to tribal leaders; Afghanistan's forest cover dropped by 50 percent in three decades, experts say

    Video White House Seeks $1.8 Billion to Combat Zika

    Obama administration says funding would 'support essential strategies to combat the virus' such as rapidly expanding mosquito control programs, accelerating vaccine research

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.